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Ashok Mulchandani

Professor of Chemical Engineering
Ashok Mulchandani
Sensing a Better Life
Advances in sensor technology are enabling a wealth of new industrial and healthcare applications. The Mulchandani lab has developed nano-biosensors for the detection of cancer biomarkers, DNA, bacteriophages, viruses, spores, bacteria, explosive, pesticides and nerve agents, and are working on intelligent, implantable, online, low-cost bio and chemical sensors for many applications.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Fellow, American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (2008)
  • Subba Rau Lecturer, National Institute of Technology (India; 2007)
  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2003)
  • Faculty research Participation Award, Department of Energy (1999-2000)
  • Research Initiation Award, National Science Foundation (1993-96)
  • UC Regents Faculty Fellowship (1993)

Q&A

Q: Describe your research and its applications.
My research focus is in the emerging area of bionanotechnology. My lab creates sensors (analytical devices) that use biological and/or chemical sensing elements to analyze chemical or biological molecules of interest. We are developing sensors for applications in healthcare, environmental monitoring, food safety and quality assessment, and personal and homeland security — all to enhance the quality of life. To date, we have developed nano-biosensors for the detection of cancer biomarkers, DNA, bacteriophages, viruses, spores, bacteria, explosive, pesticides and nerve agents.

Q: Please give us an example illustrating how sensor data helps solve so many different kinds of problems.
Our grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is a good example. The NIH “Genes and Environment Initiative” (GEI) program is geared toward the long-term goal of understanding the roles of heredity, environmental exposure and lifestyle in currently prevalent diseases. For example, our gene pool has not changed in the last 50-100 years, yet the incidence of diabetes has increased dramatically during the same time period. Why?

For the GEI program, we are developing a “Wearable Nanosensor Array for Real-Time Monitoring of Personal Exposure to Combustion Engine Exhaust” and “Point-of-Care Multianalyte Nanosensor Arrays for Stress Biomarkers.”

Combustion engine exhaust is a complex mixture of gases and fine particles. Recent studies have linked respiratory diseases and cancer to gasoline and diesel exhaust exposure. These diseases, however, are also attributed to genetic susceptibility. Establishing a direct link between these diseases and diesel and/or gasoline exhaust requires reliable and reproducible quantitative measures of exposure. Conventional methods for the detection of urban hazardous air pollutants are expensive and time consuming, generally confined to collections via air monitoring stations, which are then assumed representative of the region. The goal of our research is to develop a fully integrated light-weight sensor that can be worn as a badge similar to the common γ-radiation counter to assess an individual’s exposure to these hazardous chemicals. The collected data would be used in epidemiological studies to establish a better understanding of the relationship between genes, environmental exposure, life style and disease.

Q: What are the big challenges researchers in your field are trying to answer?
The holy grail for biosensor researchers is a robust sensor that is implantable and intelligent, yet low cost and able to send data directly and wirelessly to a doctor or elsewhere in real time. The challenge is to have the data immediately available at the point of care — in the doctor’s office, at home or at another site remote from the patient — without the need to be attended there. The big push in recent years has been in the area of glucose monitoring for diabetes. Imagine a cheap implanted sensor for real-time continuous measurement of blood sugar, helping to control the patient’s insulin dose continually, rather than by injections before meals.

Q: As a thought leader in your field, what service activities are you involved in?
My service activities keep me busy. I have been editor-in-chief of Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology since 2003 and am on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Open Access Journal of Biotechnology, Recent Patents in Biotechnology and the Journal of Bionanoscience. I am also asked to speak quite often at national and international conferences which take me around the world — India, Germany, France, Japan and China, to name a few. I have been plenary and keynote speaker for these conferences many times.

Q: Who is the most influential public voice in your field and what are they saying?
Professor Anthony Turner of Linköping University in Sweden, formerly of Cranfield University in the U.K., is a good spokesman for both the research and industry arenas of biosensor technologies. His recent YouTube introduction to the field of biosensors has had over 1000 hits.

Q: What movies, documentaries or TV programs have you recently found interesting or inspiring?
ABC News has a great program I’ve been following. The year-long“Be the Change: Save a Life” series covers health stories around the world among the world’s poorest people, and the technology innovations that may help. The series encourages people to contribute to the causes that are reported.
Ashok Mulchandani“Biological and chemical sensors are the front-line tools for improving quality of life for the earth’s inhabitants.”

—Ashok Mulchandani
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